RazOrbaX Report: Smithson breaks down Arkansas' 31-23 win over LSU
On October 19th, 1985, I witnessed something I thought I would never see. Arkansas was playing Texas in Fayetteville that day, and as always, the Southwest Conference title was on the line for the Razorbacks. Arkansas scored touchdowns, Texas field goals! Arkansas wins right? Not quite. Texas kicks five field goals, and Arkansas scores only two touchdowns. The Razorbacks and their fans have their hearts broken again, 15-13. I would have never thought that I would see the Razorbacks lose a game where the opponent could not score a touchdown. As the LSU Tigers scored twice in the third quarter and once in the fourth, all I could think about was hold them to field goals, not touchdowns!
What a beautiful day in Little Rock. It was cold early in the morning (it is November) but by 11, it was great. Clear blue sky and a crisp cool wind. Tailgating started early and only ended after most of the cars had left the parking lot that night. The Razorback fans were cautiously optimistic, but the Tiger fans were brashly confident. As the time came for the Arkansas team buses to arrive, HOG fans began to form a 10-deep line across Monroe cheering on their team. As game time approached, the optimism went up a notch, and why not? Arkansas has stood toe to toe with each SEC opponent and led them all in the fourth quarter.
SEC CHASING HOGS, NOW
At the spring practices I observed, I noted that this Arkansas squad looked like an SEC squad: bigger, stronger and faster. Only the season would tell us if the mental part of their game had become SEC ready. We all noted the improvement from year one of Bobby Petrino to year two. Were all of the pieces in place for year three to be the breakthrough year? Two years ago against Florida, Arkansas fans saw speed. Last year in Gainesville, that gap had closed. Saturday afternoon in Little Rock, the Arkansas Razorbacks showed the nation that the speed gap was gone!
HOG D COMES UP BIG
Lavunce Askew (99) and
the Hog tackles whipped
LSU up front.
Defensively, the Arkansas defensive tackles were the unsung heroes. DD Jones, Bryan Jones (Junction City), Zach Stadther (North Little Rock), and Lavunce Askew (Camden Fairview) pushed the LSU guards and center around all game. This allowed linebacker Jerico Nelson to make seven tackles, three of them for losses. Jordan Jefferson seemed to escape the pressure time after time, but his long run was only 13 yards and he was sacked for 20 yards in losses. Jefferson is a good passer when he is running by design (sprint out passes and bootlegs), but when he is running because of pressure, he is not. Arkansas mixed man and zone coverages all day. LSU tried only two deep passes and the Razorback secondary was in great position on both. In fact, Jefferson’s long runs came not on designed plays but because Arkansas had everyone covered he had no choice but to run. Arkansas gave LSU a lot of three-man line looks but almost always brought a linebacker and/or a safety to pressure Jefferson. Holding the talented Tigers to 100 yards rushing and only 194 passing took an all out effort by the Razorback defense. Last year, Arkansas was one of the best teams in the country in red zone defense. That has slipped a little but the Razorbacks forced LSU to kick three field goals after the Tigers got deep into Arkansas territory in the second half. The HOGS forced kicks after stopping drives at the 29-yard line, the 3-yard line (after first and goal from the 9) and at the 19-yard line (after first and goal from the 8). Those three stops won the game for Arkansas.
HOGS RUN OVER LSU
On the first three Arkansas drives, the HOGS blew a third and short play. On the first one, the snap went over Mallett’s head, and he was tackled for a loss. On the next two, Arkansas went play-action, and LSU sacked Mallett both times. As the game wore on and it became obvious that the Razorbacks were controlling the line of scrimmage, Arkansas ran the ball down the Tigers’ throat. Two years ago, the pitch sweep was very effective against the Tigers. LSU was ready for the sweep, even when the Razorbacks ran it out of a five-wide, no-back set. Joe Adams came in motion and Mallett pitched him the ball sweeping left. LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu crashed the play quickly and Adams was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. That was a third-and-3 play from the LSU 39-yard line with the score 21-20. Adams lost that battle but won the war against Mathieu on the next play!
Since LSU had the sweep down, Arkansas went to its bread-and-butter running play, the stretch. Arkansas just dares you to over play to the strong side sometimes with a tight end on the line and another in the tight slot and fullback Van Stumon all to the same side. At times, out of that formation, the slot tight end would fold down and pen the defensive end and other times would let him scrap wide. This allowed Knile Davis to pick his hole. On his touchdown run, the HOGS collapsed the defensive end. Both guards got second-level blocks on linebackers and Davis strolled into the end zone. Late in the game as LSU tired and tried to string the plays out, Davis hit the crease between the tackle and end as the Arkansas offensive line wore out LSU.
LSU GETS BURNED DEEP
HOG WR JOE ADAMS
Mallett made two bad decisions throwing the football but also hit three big passes that more than overcame the interceptions. In fact, the interceptions keep Arkansas from scoring and hitting 40-plus points against the LSU defense. Mallett’s throw to Hamilton for the 85-yard touchdown should have been a familiar play to Arkansas fans. The formation was slightly different, but the patterns were exactly the same as the final offensive play against Georgia. Hamilton was wide left (just as Greg Childs was) but instead of tight end D J Williams lining up on the left, Arkansas had Lance Ray to Hamilton’s right and Joe Adams to Ray’s right. In other words, a trip set to the left. Adams ran an out route and Ray ran a stop while Hamilton runs a streak up the sideline. Mallett takes the shotgun snap and looks left. For all the world, it looks like he is throwing to Adams. The LSU corner jumps the out but the ball is going over his head to Hamilton. LSU safety Karnell Hatcher took a bad angle (just as the Georgia safety did) and Arkansas has an 85-yard TD. LSU took bad angles several times and I think it was because they underestimated the Arkansas speed.
UP NEXT: A SWEET BOWL?
Now we wait. The Razorbacks have done all they can do. It has been a great ride to 10-2 with a couple of what-ifs to make it interesting. Arkansas beat Georgia in Athens, South Carolina in Columbia and Mississippi State in Starkville. When you win three SEC road games, it is a good year! While it may pain Arkansas fans, I laid it out for you three weeks ago: Auburn runs the table and the Razorbacks win out, the Sugar Bowl could be in the offing. Saturday, my normal cardinal and white attire will be replaced by whatever blue and orange I can find. My Woooooo PIG Soooiieee gives way to WAR EAGLE! I will be an Auburn fan so that January 4th can be spent in New Orleans. GO HOGS and WAR EAGLE